Tuesday, December 20, 2011

E. Coli: One of the Costs of "Cheap" Meat

There was recall of ground beef this week for 40,000 pounds that were found to be contaminated with E. Coli. Fortunately, this recall was made before anyone ate the contaminated meat and suffered the consequences, which can be as severe as death.

The US Department of Agriculture estimates that E. Coli has an annual price tag of around $488, 771, 183 in medical costs, productivity losses, and disutility. These are the human costs of E. Coli here in America.

How many cows were butchered and then ultimately recalled and discarded due to this contamination? According to my research, a butchered cow produces anywhere from 300 to 500 pounds of useable meat, not all of which will be ground. But to keep things simple, for the purposes of this demonstration, let’s say that all of that meat is ground for distribution. That means that anywhere from 80 to 130 cows were destroyed due to this contamination and recall. Their lives needlessly wasted.

Here is another part of the waste: 720,000 gallons (a conservative number, as some estimates have it closer to 1 Billion gallons) is the amount of water needed to raise one steer (from birth to butcher within the factory farm system), multiply that by the number of cows that were destroyed and you have 57,600,000 – 93,600.000 wasted gallons of clean water. I’m not even going to go into the amount of wasted corn (did you know that 80% of all corn grown in the US is used for feedlots and only 20% for human consumption?), waste water produced and other harmful effects on the environment that are inexcusable at any time and much, much more so when the final outcome is not even suitable for human consumption.

Waste compounded by waste, and all of it unnecessary. Why unnecessary? Think back to science class as a kid when you learned all about cows. I don’t remember what grade that was, but I know I was pretty young when I learned that cows have 4 stomachs, they eat GRASS, and chew their cud (regurgitated GRASS) and pass it along progressively to each of it’s four stomachs for proper digestion. It was probably during that same year of science class that we learned that corn is a grain, not a grass. Hmmmm…. I guess what I’m getting at here is that if a 4th grader knows that cows eat grass and corn ISN’T grass, why is it that we feed millions of cows corn?

You didn’t actually expect me to have an answer for that, did you? Here’s the best I can come up with. After WWII, we had a surplus of corn and a shortage of cheap, readily available food for a lot of people who wanted to eat meat. So, the government began subsidizing corn (yes, giving away your tax-payer dollars to corn farms – not small time farms, but massive farms), feedlots were developed on which cattle were fed corn, cattle fattened faster than on grass, “cheap” meat was created, a taste for “cheap” corn-fed beef was cultivated among consumers. And consequences be damned.

Here’s the problem, since cows weren’t created to eat corn, their digestive systems are not created to digest corn. In other words, those 4 stomachs and the process of chewing cud – designed to digest grass – doesn’t work to digest corn. This causes a very painful condition in cows called acute acidosis. The condition is so painful, that cows will kick at their own bellies to try to stop the pain, if left untreated (by antibiotics, of course), it will lead to a quick death (and is the most common form of death among cows in feedlots). This condition, even if treated, causes lesions in the liver which would be fatal if the cows were allowed to live long enough. To quote another website, “altering cattle feed is not natural, and nature is telling us so.” (http://lettherebebite.com/in-store-guide/meat/beef/)

E. Coli is a bacteria that lives naturally in a cow’s digestive system, cows that eat an appropriate diet of grass, maintain healthy levels of E. Coli in their systems, however, cows that are converted (for fattening up) to a corn based diet lose the natural balance within their bodies. E. Coli is overproduced and excreted. Cows living in feedlots are constantly exposed to their own excrement, and are in most cases, still covered in it when they are butchered. And here comes the really fun part, that excrement ends up in your hamburger and makes you sick. Makes me sick just thinking about it, to tell you the truth.

Buying grass-fed and FINISHED (as many beef producers are now wising up to the fact that consumers are looking for grass-fed beef, they are labeling their meat “grass-fed”. Since most cows start their lives on farmland, this is true that they were grass-fed, but then they are shipped off to a feed lot where they were FINISHED on a corn diet. Labeling is important at the grocery store, don’t be misled. To be certain, get your beef from a local provider who is proud to put the name of his farm on the label!) beef is safer for many reasons. The likely hood of having contaminated meat from this type of environment is almost non-existent. Since their bodies have less E Coli in their systems, it is not excreted from their bodies. Nor are they required to stand in their excrement day in and day out, so they are not covered in it when taken to slaughter. Also, the farmers in this case are producing meat for their families, friends and neighbors and are MUCH more accountable for the final product (after all, if you get sick from their meat, you may very well be knocking on their door to complain in person…. Do you know where the person lives who produces the hamburger that you bought at the grocery store???)

We often use the expression, food for thought. I’m asking you to take some time to think about your food! Think about where it comes from, how it is produced, how it can effect you, and how do your choices effect the world around you?

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Inspired By A Day At The Farmer's Market

I had an interesting day today working a booth at a local farmer’s market…. not something that I do on a regular basis. I was very excited to be placed between a booth for Hunter Cattle, a local sustainable farm that produces grass fed and pasture raised beef and pork; and Southern Swiss Dairy, a local dairy that produces milk, cheese, ice cream, and butter. It not only presented me with a great opportunity to do a little grocery shopping, but a chance to see the number of people who stopped to ask why this source of meat and dairy was different, better, and yes, more expensive, than what they are used to buying at the grocery store. And it was wonderful to see the education that was taking place right there at the market.

It was also wonderful to see these two businesses succeeding and being profitable. If a business is praiseworthy, we should do all we can to make it profitable, as well. As consumers, it is with our money that we express our values. What things do you value? What do you want to see more of in this world? What is important to you in your life? However you answer these questions, it is important to apply those values to the products that you buy, the businesses that you patronize, and the companies that you support with consumer dollars.

I have become repeatedly annoyed by the Occupy Wall Street Movement and their claims that they are the 99, not that I disagree, but because they are seeking government intervention for the 99. Here’s the thing, we are the 99%, and we hold the power…. we carry that power around with is in the form of currency, little plastic cards, and check books. We don’t need the government to step in to provide more regulation, we just need to step up and reward companies that operate with integrity by giving them our business; and punish those that act irresponsibly by NOT patronizing them.

The same principle applies to agriculture, reward those that are making responsible decisions regarding sustainable practices and any other practices that we find laudable. If consumers are not willing to pay a higher price for healthier, better quality foods produced in a sustainable and humane manner, then local farmers will never be able to stay in business to provide this valuable service. On the other side of the coin, as long as consumers are flocking to the grocery store to pay bottom dollar on factory farmed meat (meat that is produced in a way that harms the environment, is detrimental to our health, is a drain on the communities in which they exist) then THOSE companies will thrive, grow, continue, and prosper. As the 99, we not only hold the key to our own improvement, we also must accept that we are responsible for our current state (ie, this current economy, leaders that refuse to act on OUR behalf, environmental problems, rampant health problems..ok, I could go on, but I won’t).

I apologize for my little rant, I got a little bit side-tracked in this post. I intended to highlight these two businesses that I feel are such wonderful examples of what I hope to help promote in this process. So, in their own words, here is why Hunter Cattle Company does what it does.

Hunter Cattle Company believes in the healthy benefits of Grassfed Beef, pastured Pork, Free-Range Chickens, and Free-Range Eggs. Our family owned and managed farm is committed to providing the healthiest, best tasting beef, pork, poultry, and eggs for your breakfast, lunch, and dinner plate. We raise and finish our cattle on grass, free to roam and graze. Our pigs are pastured, free to roam and root the way they were intended to. Our chickens get their nutrients from the fields making their meat tasty and the eggs richer than those bought at the grocery store. Our animals receive no added growth hormones, steroids, or antibiotics, and are not subjected to feed lots or cages. Hunter Cattle is committed to the humane treatment of all the animals on our farm, ensuring their health and happiness at all times. We invite you taste the difference! (www.huntercattle.com)

And by the way, I enjoyed some DELICIOUS, farm fresh, pasture raised bacon when I got home.... worth every penny! And since it was pasture raised .... eating a natural diet and free to roam... that bacon actually has healthy benefits including: vitamin E, beta carotene, vitamin C, and even omega 3 fatty acids.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Homemade Chicken Stock

One of the things that I’m discovering through this process of abstaining from factory farmed meat (and products) is that I lose access to pretty much all convenience food items (like chicken broth, canned soup, packaged gravy mixes, and of course, prepackaged meals). Having to make things from scratch isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though. But it does require some planning and a little extra time. On the plus side, it is very cost-effective, you can control the amount of fat and sodium content, there are no preservatives or unwanted chemicals (have you seen the news about potentially cancer-causing agents that are present in all commercially canned foods?), and – oh yes- in most cases, it is much more delicious!

Today, I am making a large pot of chicken/vegetable stock to be frozen and used at a later time. I am making the stock from the water that I used to boil two chicken breasts (for today’s meals). Since the meat products that I am buying are significantly higher per pound than their factory farmed counterparts, it’s very important to get as much value and as many uses from the meat as possible. In other words, I’m buying less meat and not letting any of it go to waste (keeping my meat budget very much in-line with what it was before).

Using the same water in which I cooked the chicken (I needed to add more water in order to fill a large pot), I added onion (quartered), a clove of garlic (halved), two carrots (halved), several celery stalks including the leaves (I use the stalks in the center of the bunch that are small and have the most leaves still intact), course fresh-ground pepper, salt, and I use fresh cilantro (just a small handful), you can use any fresh herbs that you prefer or have on hand. Just bring to a rapid boil over high heat, reduce heat, cover and simmer on low heat for a good long while (I always simmer mine for at least an hour, sometimes more if I forget that it’s going). Be sure to taste it and season additionally, if needed. Once it’s ready, pour through a strainer into a pitcher or large bowl, refrigerate or allow broth to come to room temperature, then portion out for later use. I freeze mine in popsicle molds that I have, but you could use ice trays or even zip lock bags. If you use the molds or ice trays, just remove once broth is frozen and place in freezer bags for storage.

Voila! Homemade stock ready to use whenever you need it.

Sunday, December 4, 2011


Here are some resources that I think you might find useful if you are interested in making some small changes of your own. I’ve purposefully kept the list short and to the point. This is a great place to start without getting too overwhelmed by too much information. I know from my own personal experience on this journey, that finding enough information is not the problem, sorting through it and finding what is relevant can be a very daunting and time consuming endeavor. So, that’s what I’m for! These are sites that I find to be very informative, but also very user-friendly. You can peruse them at your leisure and find some useful information without considerable effort on your part! ;)

Finding Local Alternatives to Factory Farmed Meat

www.eatwild.com Eat wild is a great resource for finding local farmers that embrace sustainable practices and have grass fed (and finished), organic, humane, and /or free-range meat and dairy products. In addition, the website provides a lot of great information about the health benefits of finding alternatives to factory farmed meat. If you are unsure of the reasons for looking for alternatives to factory farmed meat, start here: www.eatwild.com/basics.html

Joining a Movement (Maybe you can’t change the world alone, but that’s what other people are for!)

www.slowfoodusa.org Slow Food USA is an organization that is “part of a global, grassroots movement with thousands of members in over 150 countries, which links the pleasure of food with a commitment to community and the environment”. The website is a great source of information about local food providers, but it also offers the opportunity to get involved. Slow Food membership dollars are used to help fund campaigns “to create change locally and to push for national changes to the policies and practices that shape our food system”.

Most of the meat in this country is produced by a very small number of huge corporations. Those corporations spend millions to lobby Congress to keep laws and policies that work in their favor. If we want things to change in favor of the consumer, we must work together and combine our own smaller resources to have our voices and concerns heard and taken seriously by Congress.

www.farm-dreams.com Farm Dreams is a brand new social networking site that had 600 new members on the first day that it launched. It’s a great resource (and one that will get better with time) for anyone interested in gardening, homesteading, farming, disaster preparedness, or just doing and making things for yourself. You can interact with others of similar interests and learn and share knowledge with a community of people. So, it’s a great site to join if you think that you are alone in your desire to restore quality and integrity to our food systems.

Restoring the Planet: Starting with Your Own Backyard

www.backyardnature.net/compost.htm This was the most straightforward backyard composting site that I have found. Composting is one of those things that seems simple enough until you try to research it on the web… then information overload makes it suddenly complicated. The rest of the site has some interesting information about your own backyard.

www.motherearthnews.com This is a really great all-around informative site for anyone interested in getting away from overly processed foods and goods and possibly doing more things for yourself. The website can be a little frustrating, though, if you have something specific you are interested in researching, but there is a lot of great information there (when you can find it!).

I’m currently researching backyard beekeeping. When I’ve finished my homework on the subject… I’ll pass along the resources and information that I find to be the most useful.

I hope these resources are helpful to you. If you have any that you would like to share, please do so!